KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Paulo Nagamura hit the pitch running on his return from injury. Now, poised to return to MLS play for the first time in more than two months, the Brazilian midfielder looks to play a significant role in Sporting Kansas City's playoff push – and beyond.
“I might not be 90-minute fit,” Nagamura told MLSsoccer.com on Friday, “but I'm close to it. I've been working really hard these two months to keep my fitness at a level to where, when I came back, I'd be able to play right away.”
Nagamura, who sustained a sprained ankle against FC Dallas on June 22, returned to action this week in CONCACAF Champions League play. But instead of easing back in as a substitute, Nagamura came back a starter and worked a solid 77-minute shift in Tuesday night's 2-0 away victory over Honduran side CD Olimpia.
“First off, I think our medical staff did a great job of getting him healthy,” manager Peter Vermes said on Thursday during the club's weekly news conference. “Second of all, I think the transition from the treatment room to the field and then the field to actually playing, I think that was managed extremely well, so they deserve a lot of credit for that. And then the other piece is that because we played extremely smart in the game with the ball, and we kept it a lot, especially in the first half, we didn't have to defend as much – and I think that was a big help to him, too.”
It was, Nagamura said on Friday.
“We know that this league is much more physical than the games that we have in CONCACAF,” he said. “So having that game, before our league game, was great to get me prepared and ready for the physicality of the league.”
Nagamura's return comes just as Sporting's midfield ranks are about to thin for a couple of matches. Peterson Joseph is suspended from Saturday's home match against Colorado for yellow-card accumulation, and Joseph (Haiti) and Graham Zusi (United States) will miss the following week's game against Columbus while on international duty.
“Even with those guys not going away, it's still very important,” Vermes said. “I think he's a very important player on our team. For us to make sure that our players are getting healthy, as we finish up toward the end of the season here, is big for us. I think him getting those minutes down there was really important, based on what we have left in the season.”
Sporting are tied for second in the tightly-bunched Eastern Conference with eight games left in their season, but have lost four of their last five.
“We've been through a bad stretch in the league,” Nagamura said. “I'm just looking to give a spark to the team and help us finish strong, and finish the last eight games that we have on top.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.